Develop city's arts, and they will come

Baltimore seeking `creative' residents

April 23, 2004|By Mary Carole McCauley | Mary Carole McCauley,SUN ARTS WRITER

Inviting a nationally acclaimed artist to participate in its summer arts festival. Showcasing a Pulitzer Prize-winning author at a first-ever spring literary celebration. Giving the local filmmaking industry a higher profile.

With these small actions, Baltimore is positioning itself to attract new residents who officials think will spark business development. And - surprise - the members of this desirable demographic aren't the manufacturing kingpins you might expect. Instead, Baltimore is seeking the so-called "creative class," which includes students, artists and bohemians.

Inspired by an economics professor's theories about how the arts and other cultural amenities can help cities grow, Baltimore's effort is being led by David Costello, director of the city's Office of Community Investment, who this afternoon will make a presentation on the topic. Called "The Role of the Arts in Urban Revitalization," the invitation-only seminar, being held at the Peabody Institute, will include Mayor Martin O'Malley and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

O'Malley met the charismatic Richard Florida, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, when the latter was the featured speaker at a Town Hall meeting in October. At the time, Florida commented that Baltimore has many of the elements necessary to bring about an urban renaissance: brilliant scientists, charming old neighborhoods, an attractive waterfront. "Really, all you need to do is figure out how to harness the talents of your creative people," Florida said. "It will come."

The mayor was so enthusiastic about Florida's presentation that he appointed Costello to develop a plan for a creative economy in Baltimore.

In his 2002 book, The Rise of the Creative Class: And How It's Transforming Work, Leisure, Community, and Everyday Life, Florida argues that the size of a city's creative class is the single best predictor of its economic vitality. In the United States, he said, the creative class has grown from 10 percent of the labor force in 1950 to one-third of all workers today, or about 38 million people. Instead of pursuing out-of-town businesses, Florida urges local officials to pursue creative people by transforming the city into a place where they will want to live. Rather than spending money on convention centers, Florida argues, a municipality might be wiser to develop bike trails, a restaurant scene and funky jazz clubs.

Perhaps Florida's most frequently quoted recommendations have to do with "bohemians" and gays. He argues that a city with more of both is perceived as more tolerant and likely to be characterized by innovation, high-tech industries and growth.

City administrators are taking his findings to heart. "Our mission is to position and promote Baltimore as a city that's attractive to creative-class residents: students, artists, empty-nesters, entrepreneurs and young professionals," Costello said.

For instance, Baltimore's film office recently was moved from the Department of Public Works to the Office of Promotion and the Arts - effectively giving filmmaking in Baltimore greater visibility and making it a higher priority. "This definitely signals that the film business is more important than it has been in the past," said Bill Gilmore, director of the city arts and promotion office.

Similarly, for the first time, Artscape, Baltimore's popular outdoor summer art festival, will have a juried show curated by an artist with a major national reputation. Kerry James Marshall, known for large-scale paintings of the 1960s civil rights movement, will select six artists from Baltimore and six from his hometown, Chicago, for the show.

The curated show should help raise the profile of Artscape, which in the past has been criticized for the middling quality of some of the artworks it displayed. "It creates a lot of buzz when you bring in someone famous," Gilmore said.

Likewise, last weekend Edward P. Jones serendipitously headlined the first-ever CityLit Festival - less than two weeks after winning the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for his first novel, The Known World.

These measures are just the beginning, Costello said. For the past few months, his staff has solicited suggestions from about 350 Baltimoreans from 75 organizations and agencies about how to make Baltimore more appealing to creative people. Those providing input ranged from Nancy Haragan, director of the Greater Baltimore Creative Alliance, and Mike Mitchell, executive director of Chesapeake Habitat for Humanity, to Ann Wiker, who arranged a storefront display of works by homeless artists, and Louis Fields, who heads the African American Tourism Council of Maryland. The initial list has been whittled to about 50 ideas that will be shared today with forum participants.

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